Alaska Walkabouts

The adventures of an Alaska Wildlife and Nature Photographer.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The things I go through just to get a picture of a deer

On the afternoon of February 27, I grabbed the dog, put the boat in tow, and headed to the little town of Whittier for what was supposed to be a month of photography and adventure in the glacial region of Barry Arm and Harriman fjord. I had such a glorious time there last March. Had I known what was in store for me I would have skipped the whole thing but who has the magic crystal ball? The employee at the ticket booth was sick and I was warned that everyone in Whittier was sick but I didn't worry too much about it as I don't normally catch colds or flus. Anyway, my reason for going out on the day I did, a few days ahead of schedule, was that the skies were supposed to clear off for a few nights and I really wanted to start the trip off with a bang and get some aurora shots.

We left Whittier in the rain which is kind of how this winter has gone in this region; A warm and generally snowless winter so far. It was a routine and gentle run on calm waters up to Pakenham Point where I threw down the anchor just as the light faded from the cloudy sky. During the night it did clear off as I had hoped but the first of my obstacles came along; pea soup fog. It was pretty in its own way of course but it blocked the warm sun and threatened my chances of getting the aurora.

The first morning. Fog and stranded icebergs on the Pakenham Point spit.

A fog-bow. Darn that fog was pretty but much colder than it looks! I needed sun.

I did all I could to capture the beauty.

Bryn really hates it out there most of the time. At more than 12.5 years old now I know our time is limited. He wishes he could retire to Florida or Arizona.

It was so pretty when that annoying fog lifted. But it was not to last for long

In position at Pakenham Point.

During the day the fog finally lifted and that night the aurora appeared. It wasn't much of display but the setting was ideal. However, a cold north wind developed and the fog rapidly formed. It made shooting a nightmare. I could see all the water droplets in my headlamp beam and after every shot I had to wipe the water off the the camera lens. I persevered until the fog became so thick I was shut out. I remember one uncomfortable moment that night when I took Bryn ashore to do his business; even though the boat was only 50 yards away, I could not find it! Once I did, I decided I had better leave the anchor light on as a safety measure. There are so many ways to get in trouble out there!

The aurora and the conditions started out so nice that night!

But the cold north wind rapidly rose and the fog came down the fjord. It made shooting almost impossible but I stubbornly carried on. I came away with a couple good shots before the fog got so thick I could not continue.

The last shot I took that night. The fog took over and that was it. I did not see the night sky for several more days as there was not a breath of wind to scour the fog out of the region. It was very frustrating.

A Black Cormorant takes flight from an iceberg.

 Bryn and a big stranded iceberg.

My lonely boat in the fog. Knowing the sunshine was just above me a couple hundred feet was hard to take. It was a cold and evil fog and I don't remember any trip in the past where I had to deal with so much of it.

A brief window in the night sky. You can see the fog that was developing and it quickly shut me down. No aurora this night but great stars!

A serene morning at anchor.

Another of my attempts to get Bufflheads on the wing. All the birds out there act like they get shot at everyday and I just can't get near them. They move so fast I can't get focused on them quick enough. I almost nailed this one but the closest duck is a bit out of focus. I still like the shot though.

An otter hangs out by the boat.

Bryn tries to keep up with me on one of our walks. Bryn is old and arthritic now and he hated it out there. At this point I had a cold that was deep in my lungs and he and I were just going through the motions and trying to find some good photos.

Unhappy Bryn in the seaweed.

More paranoid birds that would not let me within a mile of them. This is a flock of  seven Great Blue Herons that I followed around for days to no avail. Maybe one day I will surprise them somewhere but I am not holding my breath.

A little bit of snow. After the foggy days I had several cloudy days but no major storms.

Anchored in Kelly's Cove. The weather cleared the last couple days I was out and I wanted to just love it but I was getting very sick and had a feeling I was going to be forced home.

  A gratuitous shot of me and Bryn at Kelly's Cove. This is a popular beach for dropping and picking kayakers off of during the summer charter season.

The Great Blue Herons avoid me again!

My single-most thrilling moment was bumping into these Sitka Blacktail Deer. I was following the herons around in my little inflatable boat and they totally caught me by surprise. Fortunately I had my big lens in my arms and was ready. At first I thought they would bolt into the forest, they usually do, but not this time. In spite of a dog and a human and a noisy little boat following them around they were incredibly tolerant. I don't expect many people to be as thrilled with a deer picture as I am but around here, these coastal deer are very hard to photograph and this was truly a gift I treasure.

Wary, but curious of me. The closest one is a youngster, probably almost a year old now, and the one looking over it is a buck that of course dropped his antlers for the winter. The other one is a doe and there was one other doe out of the picture.

So darned cute! I used to hunt deer for food but I can no longer imagine doing that. Now I just want to hunt them with a camera.

The final night out I almost had an aurora display. At first I went ashore to just get some moonlight scenes like this one.

I was taking a shot of Kelly's Cove in the moonlight when the aurora instantly appeared to the north. Even though I was frightfully sick and it was frightfully cold out, I was still excited as usual. But one minute later it faded away and never came back. That is how tough this game can be. And in the morning, I had to go home to find a doctor. Looking at these photos I know I did OK for just being out nine days. But still a massive disappointment for me. At this moment my plan it to get well and go back out for a couple more weeks. But our weather is in a bad mood and I don't feel good so maybe I will and maybe I won't.